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Alexander, Edward Porter (26 May 1835–28 April 1910), Confederate soldier and author, was born in Washington, Georgia, the son of Adam Leopold Alexander, a planter and banker, and Sarah Hillhouse Gilbert. Educated by tutors in his wealthy family’s household, Alexander entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1853 and graduated third in the class of 1857. He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant of engineers on 1 July 1857 and was promoted to second lieutenant on 10 October 1858. Marked from the first as a promising officer, he taught at West Point immediately upon graduation, accompanied ...

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Joel Barlow. Watercolor on ivory, 1806, by William Dunlap. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joel Barlow.

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Barlow, Joel (24 March 1754–26 December 1812), businessman, diplomat, and poet, was born in Redding, Connecticut, the son of Samuel Barlow and Esther Hull, fairly well-to-do farmers. Barlow was born the second-to-last child in a large family. Given the size of the family and their farm, Barlow could receive formal education only from the local minister, an education probably interspersed with farm chores. When Barlow was eighteen, his father arranged for his schooling at Moor’s Indian School (now Dartmouth) in Hanover, New Hampshire. Barlow began his studies there in 1772, yet his father’s death shortly thereafter made it necessary for Barlow to return home. He entered Yale College with the class of 1778. At Yale Barlow began to give evidence of an interest in poetry, in moral and political philosophy, and in science as a key to the improvement of the human condition. His first published poem, a broadside publication, was a satire in pseudobiblical verse about the bad food served in Yale commons. Although he wrote poems throughout his college days, Barlow’s best-known college verses were verse orations delivered at two Yale commencements, ...

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Ley, Willy (02 October 1906–24 June 1969), science journalist and spaceflight publicist, was born in Berlin, Germany, the son of Julius Otto Ley, a wine merchant, and Frida May. Educated in primary and secondary schools in Berlin, he studied paleontology, physics, and astronomy at the Universities of Berlin and Königsburg. While he did not obtain a degree, Ley developed a broad command of the sciences and became fluent in a variety of languages....

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March, William (18 September 1893–15 May 1954), writer and business executive, was born William Edward Campbell in Mobile, Alabama, the son of John Leonard Campbell, a timber cruiser, and Susan March. His childhood was spent in the small timber communities of West Florida and South Alabama, and his schooling ended at the age of fourteen when he began work in the office of a local sawmill. He left home at the age of sixteen for Mobile and obtained a position in a law office. He accumulated sufficient savings to put himself through a high school course of study at Valparaiso University (1913–1914) and subsequently to enter the law school of the University of Alabama as a special student (1914–1915). In 1916 he went to New York and became a subpoena server for a law firm....

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Powers, Francis Gary (17 August 1929–01 August 1977), pilot and espionage agent, was born in Burdine, Kentucky, the son of Oliver Powers, a coal miner, and Ida Ford. Powers wanted to be a pilot from his first plane ride at age fourteen, yet his father, who possessed a fifth-grade education, favored medicine to ensure financial security. Sent to Milligan College in Johnson City, Tennessee, Powers dropped his premedical studies in his junior year and, after graduating in 1950, enlisted in the air force....

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Mark Twain Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-28785).

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Twain, Mark (30 November 1835–21 April 1910), author and lecturer, was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri, the son of John Marshall Clemens, a lawyer, and Jane Lampton. Though he would intimate in good faith that his father descended from the gentry, his paternal grandparents were slave-owning farmers in Virginia, and his maternal grandparents in Kentucky, while better educated and more prosperous, were not wealthy. His father, having moved to Kentucky, was licensed to practice law in 1822. His parents moved in 1823 to Tennessee, where John Clemens accumulated a huge tract, perhaps as much as 75,000 acres, that would for decades figure in family councils as a potential fortune. He had minimal success as an attorney and speculator. In 1835 he embarked on various ventures in tiny Florida, Missouri, the home of John Adams Quarles, a capable farmer and storekeeper married to Jane Clemens’s younger sister....

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Villard, Henry (10 April 1835–12 November 1900), railroad promoter and journalist, was born Heinrich Hilgard in Speyer, Rhenish Bavaria, the son of Gustaf Hilgard, a local judge, and Katharina Pfeiffer. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, but Villard was an indifferent student. When his father threatened to enlist him in the military, Villard immigrated to the United States in August 1853. He changed his name to Villard, after a schoolmate he admired, to make it difficult for his family to trace him and engaged in a number of jobs during his first years in the United States. Villard eventually found work as a journalist for German-language papers and later for English-language papers, covering the ...